BY MATT TUCK
Have you ever watched a Disney cartoon and thought it needed a serial killer? Or maybe you watched Silence of the Lambs and wondered what the dog was thinking in the creepy she-puts-the-lotion-on-her-skin scene. Fleecs and Forstner have given you just that in the first two issues of Image Comics’ Stray Dogs.
STRAY DOGS #1 & #2
Written by Tony Fleecs
Art by Trish Forstner
Stray Dogs combines basically three genres I never would have put together: talking dogs, serial killers, and psychological horror. It may be one of the most unique comics on the market.
As the cover art of the first issue suggests, think of Stray Dogs as Silence of the Lambs from the dog’s point of view. What makes it all the more interesting is that Forstner chose an art style that is obviously meant to reflect the classic Disney hand-drawn animation. In one of the opening panels, we meet the cast of characters, and it is clear that they are more than inspired by talking dogs from the House of Mouse.
Other reviewers have compared it to Lady and the Tramp, but I see more Oliver and Company at work here. There is even a terrier who looks suspiciously like the titular, four-legged hero of the 1988 cartoon movie. Personally, I can’t read his lines without hearing Billy Joel’s voice, but maybe that’s just me.
Now to ruin your childhood.
If you remember, Oliver and Company was clearly a modern spin on the Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist. Only in this case, instead of the band of miscreants led by the thief-with-a-heart-of-gold Fagin, we get a mysterious man known only as “The Master,” who apparently loves dogs so much that he keeps bringing home “strays.”
Only they’re not strays; they’re the pets of his female victims.
The story follows Sophie, Master's latest "stray." Fleecs uses a dog’s short-term memory functions to further the plot, which is a clever move. None of the dogs remember where they came from. The only life they know is the one with “Master.” Then comes Sophie, whose memory is triggered by the sight of a red scarf and the nightmare of Master strangling Sophie’s owner to death.
Serial killers are nothing new when it comes to mainstream media. Of course, this is not exactly mainstream media, which is what Image Comics does best. That is precisely why this story works - it is nothing you would expect from a mainstream murder story. Certainly, there have been movies and television episodes that revolve around pets and murder mysteries. But to tell the story from the dog’s point of view is something different that defies those expectations.
Stray Dogs not only enjoys being a horror story, but it embraces its Disney roots with Forstner’s artwork. Any of these panels could be plucked out and used in a children’s book or a cartoon (maybe not the murder scene). It’s in that dichotomy of the innocence used to tell a brutal and tragic story where Stray Dogs creates a genre all its own.
The story and the artwork compliment one another, and it has created the beginnings of what could be a modern classic. In the age of live-action treatments for comics, I hope this one remains two-dimensional and gets adapted into a dark reflection of a Disney cartoon.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.